Interview With Ronald Winston, on His Father Harry – JCK

Ronald Winston admits he typically received emotional as he researched the lifetime of his famed father for his new e-book, King of Diamonds: Harry Winston, the Definitive Biography of an American Icon.

Within the e-book—which may be preordered previous to its publication by Skyhorse this fall—Winston, 82, charts his father’s exceptional climb to the highest, in addition to the tumultuous three many years Ronald headed the corporate following Harry’s loss of life in 1978.

Winston talked with JCK about what made his father so particular, the household feud that just about killed the corporate, and his recollections of Donald Trump, Ross Perot, and Jonas Savimbi.

Why did you write this e-book?

My father and I have been very shut. I admired him, each because the “king of diamonds” and likewise as my father. There are issues that I knew, that solely I knew, and I made a decision to jot down the e-book for my household. It took a very long time, about 10 years.

Your father grew to become such a legend. Is there something that you simply suppose set him aside from different sellers?

He had a imaginative and prescient. They didn’t reduce huge diamonds again within the Twenties. They reduce stones as melee, however not huge diamonds. There weren’t many round. What he was doing was totally different and revelatory.

Did he at all times know that he was going to perform one thing large?

He knew he was going someplace, and he received there. As I write within the e-book, as a toddler, he was so poor, he needed his glass of milk stuffed to the tippy tippy high, as a result of that was his solely luxurious.

However he at all times had an inherent capacity. When he was a little bit boy, he noticed an emerald [in a pawnshop window] that was promoting for 25 cents. He purchased it, and it was price $800. The shop didn’t notice it was a Colombian emerald. He had an inherent knack for seeing high quality and coloration.

Although his identify was well-known, your father was low-profile. He was by no means photographed.

He was a easy man. He didn’t actually publicize himself. He let the diamonds and the jewels communicate for themselves.

So how did he develop into so well-known?

He used the press. He made tales, which received headlines. He had a way of the dramatic: He cleaved a giant diamond in public, and mailed [the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian], relatively than have it carried by guards. That each one made information, and folks didn’t do these sort of issues in these days.

JCK simply talked with Jeffrey Put up, the retiring gem curator of the Smithsonian’s Nationwide Museum of Pure Historical past, concerning the Hope and its supposed “curse.” Your father owned the Hope for years, earlier than donating it to the museum. What did he consider the speak of a curse?

[Cartier] created that story to curiosity [socialite] Evalyn Walsh McLean, as a result of she was sort of a unusual girl, so her husband purchased it for her. She simply cherished to do bizarre issues. She would put the Hope Diamond on her favourite Labrador and let the canine wander across the cocktail events with hundreds of thousands of {dollars} round his neck.

When my father purchased her property again in 1948, I bear in mind listening to on the radio down in Palm Seaside that this socialite had bought her assortment to Harry Winston. That was the primary time I knew, at age 7, that my father was well-known.

Your father was each a retailer and wholesaler, but the wholesale enterprise was largely saved quiet.

Most individuals didn’t know [he was a major wholesaler], and my father didn’t need folks to know that. He would purchase run-of-mine tough from De Beers. He saved the gems and bought the run-of-mines stuff to J.C. Penney and shops like that. So he equipped a very good a part of the American market along with his output.

At one level he had a falling-out with De Beers.

They reduce him off. He was getting diamonds [as a sightholder] each six weeks, they usually thought he was getting too huge. They weren’t very good. It was all about energy. He discovered different sources in Africa, nevertheless it was a hardship.

King of Diamonds cover copy
Winston’s e-book, now obtainable for preorder

Whenever you took over the enterprise, was it laborious following such a legend?

Everybody thought: I used to be the rich son, born with a silver spoon in my mouth, let’s watch him fail.

I bear in mind as soon as, the market was going loopy for giant stones. You’ll purchase a giant stone on Sunday, after which promote it on Shabbos night. I mentioned, “That is no good. We’re going to promote all the massive stones we now have.” My workforce mentioned, “You possibly can’t do this. It’s important to present everyone how robust you might be.” And I mentioned, “That is what we’re going to do.” I bought each huge diamond, and inside 5 – 6 months there was an amazing crash, beginning in Israel. We purchased them again for half the price.

Within the e-book, you inform a loopy story about assembly [former UNITA head] Jonas Savimbi in Angola.

I had a rule that I’d by no means ship folks to a spot I’d by no means go myself. I knew Savimbi—he was a really clever and charismatic man and warrior. He was closely guarded within the bush in Angola. It was thrilling. I wouldn’t do this as we speak, as a father.

I used to be very practically murdered by one of many individuals who was supposed to protect me—Clark, who was an ex-CIA man and a soldier of fortune. He noticed all this cash in money and diamonds, and he plotted to kill me. My workforce warned me to not go together with him. So I took him to the restaurant on the lodge we have been staying at in Switzerland, and mentioned, “We’re not going.” And he mentioned, “What? You possibly can’t do this to me!” He was being paid it doesn’t matter what, so one much less journey to Africa, he ought to have been pleased. So one thing was actually amiss. I didn’t go, and that in all probability saved my life.

Whenever you have been head of the shop, you met loads of very outstanding folks.

Ross Perot was a shopper of ours. I bear in mind certainly one of my salespeople advised him {that a} pair of emeralds is the best pair of emeralds ever within the historical past of the world. So Ross known as me: [in Texas twang] “I used to be advised these are the best emeralds on Earth. Are they?” I mentioned, “Sure.” He mentioned, “Effectively, give me a letter.” And I mentioned, “I can’t.” He mentioned, “Why?’

“As a result of I don’t know what the great Lord goes to make the earth surrender tomorrow. However I’m saying they’re the best I’ve seen.” That was sufficient for him. He bought them, however I needed to preserve one step forward of my salespeople. They tended to magnify, they usually received caught on their very own guarantees.

I knew Donald Trump. I used to be his first tenant. We used to have dinner. I loaned jewels to his second spouse for his or her marriage ceremony. He was egotistical, let’s simply say that. Very a lot out for himself. I want him effectively, however I gained’t vote for him, and I’m a Republican.

Within the Nineties, you ended up in a authorized battle along with your brother Bruce.

My brother trusted folks he shouldn’t have trusted. His lawyer advised them that I used to be the largest thief ever. That’s by no means been my nature. I’ve at all times been scrupulously sincere. Why would I steal? I’ve plenty of cash. He mentioned to me as soon as, “You wish to work. I simply need the cash.” I mentioned, “Effectively, how do you suppose you get cash?”

Did you reconcile with Bruce earlier than he handed away in 2021?

No, we by no means reconciled.

[Diamond miner] Aber purchased Harry Winston in 2004. On the time it was an fascinating mannequin, a miner shopping for a retailer. However within the e-book, you say it didn’t work out.

No. I didn’t get together with [former Aber CEO] Bob Gannicott. He was not suited to the posh enterprise. When he invited me as much as the mine in Yellowknife, he wouldn’t present me any manufacturing. That didn’t make sense; I used to be his accomplice.

The sale [of the business] occurred due to the state of warfare that my brother declared on me. The decide within the Westchester courtroom had ordered me to promote the corporate. I both had to purchase it myself—and go closely into debt, which I didn’t wish to do—or create an public sale. And Aber got here in, they usually received management. Ultimately, they bought it to Swatch.

Have you ever been concerned with the corporate because it was bought?

Swatch has by no means talked to me. They’ve written me out of the equation; I don’t exist. They don’t point out me. It’s Harry, after which Swatch. Which wasn’t what occurred in any respect. I put the corporate into the watch enterprise, which ended up making some huge cash.

You will have been out of the enterprise for over a decade. Do you miss it?

I miss the inventive component of discovering uncommon, extraordinary issues. I miss engaged on press and promoting. So sure, I do miss it.

What would you need folks to learn about your father?

He was a rare character. He was good, and likewise very form and beneficiant. He created charities and gave the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian.

In your e-book, you write about being extra curious about science than in jewellery. Do you remorse taking up the corporate?

No, as a result of it gave me an opportunity to start out a basis, and proper now we’re engaged on a remedy for most cancers. We’re very shut. It’s primarily based on a brand new molecule, which relies on penicillin, consider it or not. Every little thing labored out. I used to be capable of save the enterprise, make it greater, and on the identical time do my science.

(Prime photograph by Monarch Images; images courtesy of Ronald Winston)

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